Grim Reaper? Nope. It's just Banksy.
Exit Through the Gift ShopDirected by BanksyStarring Shepard Fairey, Thierry Guetta, Rhys Ifans and BanksyRated R*9.5*Goes well with: Anvil! The Story of Anvil!, American Movie, How to Draw a Bunny
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking there's no way a documentary about art is going to be interesting, let alone the best film you've seen this year. But here's a brief list of appropriate adjectives about Exit Through the Gift Shop: engaging, funny, insightful, subversive. This is a piece, from an artist whose work tends to be fleeting, that will live long and prosper. It's anti-establishment, anti-corporate and anti-poseur, taking a smiling, snarling bite out of the hand that feeds it. Yes, this is a work of art about a work of art about a work of art about art, like a dorm-room Escher print that's actually cool.
Are you getting the idea?
So, in the beginning, there was Banksy, sitting before the camera to tell his side of the story. Yes, yes, y'all, this is an actual interview with the anonymous prankster graffiti artist whose work and life seem to be carried out in a secret identity. Before you get your hopes up, it's best to know that his face is covered and his voice is modulated as he tells the story of Thierry (pronounced “Terry”) Guetta, a Frenchman who lives in L.A., makes a killing selling vintage clothes and has spent the bulk of his life videotaping everything. Thierry's cousin is Space Invader, a Parisian who's pasted space invaders made out of old Rubik's Cube blocks in cities all over the globe. Thierry began filming the adventures of Space Invader and, through him, met a legion of high-profile street artists, including Shepard Fairey, of the infamous Obama “Hope” image and the Andre the Giant stickers that are plastered all over the globe. Soon, Thierry was shooting Fairey on a regular basis, working on a documentary about a revolutionary art form that had never been captured in this manner. But the Frenchman knew that to actually be worthwhile, his film had to include Banksy.
You're forgiven if you don't know who Banksy is, though you will lose some hipster cred. He's the grand master of street artists, someone whose work includes social commentary and an investigation into the nature of art itself and raises questions about the ego and mental state of someone who would put themselves at such risk for their endeavors. This is the guy who hung his own painting in the Louvre, the guy who created gorgeous works of art on the walls of Israel's West Bank. But he's unreachable, unknowable, an anonymous genius who, one day, was in L.A. and was in need of a partner in crime. And that's how he met Thierry.
British actor Rhys Ifans provides a wry narrative of Thierry's adventures, which, coupled with Banksy's modulated interview, offers an incredible insight into Banksy. Soon, Thierry and Banksy were thick as thieves, and the footage Thierry captured of Banksy's operation is absolutely amazing. Soon, street art started to become mainstream, and Banksy finally convinced Thierry that it was time to cut that movie together. But here's the thing: Thierry is less a filmmaker than he is a guy with a camera.
So, what does Banksy do? He takes Thierry's tapes and makes his own movie while the Frenchman returns to L.A. to try his hand at art. And, suddenly, you start to see everything that Banksy is leading up to, calling into question the very nature of art by turning the camera on Thierry. It's as multifaceted as a prism, refracting concepts rather than light. And, remember, Banksy is brilliant, but he's also a prankster, and he fools us by putting himself in front of the camera. You have to keep in mind that Banksy's interview is conducted by Banksy as part of Banksy's film—nothing is left to chance.
Exit Through the Gift Shop isn't just a film about Thierry trying to make a film about Banksy. It's a Banksy art project, a piece of introspection, observance and subterfuge. By making himself part of the picture, you forget that the picture says what Banksy wants it to say, and if no one told you he was the director, well, you might not know that everything is calculated. It's fascinating art, and it's also a piece of work that, for once, won't be covered up by a fresh coat of paint.
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